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The fisherman versus the fighters: Ganryujima (2003).

Anyone who knows anything about this site is familiar with our passion for Asian films.  One of the central figures in these films is the famed 17th century Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi.  Typically Musashi is portrayed as a dignified and violent, yet philosophical Ronin.  Not in Ganryujima this time he is and psychotic, vulgar, violent and cruel bully, carrying with him the aura of an insane homeless man who is the center of his own megalomaniacal universe.

The movie focuses on the duel with Sasaki Kojiro on Ganryu Island.  From the opening scene Musashi is clearly the villain and Sasaki Kojiro is the honorable samurai and Musashi apologist.  Kojiro goes so far as to defend each of Musashi’s cruel actions as a necessary byproduct of the duels he was in.  Ganryujima points out that this duel which made him the undisputed fencing champion of Japan is never mentioned in Musashi’s famous Book of The Five Rings.  The film has a theory why Musashi left this out of his book; that is, he does not remember it because the fisherman taking him out to the island duel knocked him out cold with an oar and that he is mistaken for Musashi.  Since the fisherman has no fencing skills, he ends up killing a befuddled Kojiro in self-defense who is unprepared for such an outlandish bout.  When Musashi comes to, he has temporary amnesia that quickly vanishes—along with his disgraceful characteristics.  Musashi is “re-born” as the Ronin we all know and love.  It is not a great movie; however anyone with any interest in the swordsman really should take a look at this novel view of Musashi.

The film starts after Musashi has defeated Baiken, destroyed the entire Yoshioka School and he has beheaded the ten year old Yoshioka figurehead.  In Ganryujima he is not traveling to the famous island to fight a duel with Kojiro. He is taking a boat ride to die.  The movie makes a game of having him “forget” his swords and having the runs, but by the end of the movie, when his real personality emerges it is obvious this was not a matter of forgetting anything.

While Kojiro waits for Muashi, he explains the real reason for the duel to one of the naïve witnesses; that Kojiro is to die even if he wins the duel and that the unknowing naïve witness is to kill Kojiro should Muashi fail too.  We are then walked through Kojiro’s situation of the clan using the duel as an assassination play because many of the non-mainstream retainers look to Kojiro and the Sasaki family as their leaders in a revolt.  Knowing that if the central government finds out about a revolt their clan will be dissolved, they decide to sacrifice Kojiro.  I’d  just like to say that these Asian people are really into the clan system and I wish someone would tell me why anything can be done as long as it is in the name of the clan it is ok?

After the fisherman kills Kojiro and returns to his hamlet with a barely conscious Musashi, a mass of samurai who have come for their revenge.  Now Musashi does not want to fight but is left with no alternative.  First he beats them without cutting them, but after a few moments it is clear that he will have to kill them all by releasing the beast within himself.  The transition from the dignified Ronin to the animal killer reminds me of Bruce Banner’s transformation into the Incredible Hulk.  Like the Incredible Hulk, Musashi butchers his opponents almost gracefully.  This scene alone makes the movie worth watching.

I give this film full credit for its originality; I was totally taken by surprise—which almost never happens.  And while the cinematography was excellent, for some reason it had a made-for-tv-movie feel about it.  For Dangerous its final fight scene (shown in full here) is spectacularly choreographed rivaling any I have seen.  But again, I just can’t shake the made-for-tv-movie feel.  It does not matter.  As I mentioned above anyone with any interest in the legendary swordsman should take the time to view this film.

 
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Posted by on April 27, 2013 in Movie Reviews

 

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Some of you have asked me for a list of movies we’ve reviewed.

Some of you have asked me for a list of movies we’ve reviewed–So here is a partial list to look at:

  1. A Little Woo Goes a Long Way: Red Cliff Parts 1 & 2.
  2. The Hurt Locker–Not Crap Not A Rose.
  3. The Zero Effect
  4. Miami Vice (2006)
  5. Bananas
  6. Yes Minister & Yes Prime Minister
  7. Arrested Development
  8. 12 Rounds
  9. Real Men
  10. Bad Lieutenant—The Original Not That New Crap
  11. Crank Yankers
  12. Heavenly Mission
  13. Law Abiding Citizen
  14. Armored
  15. Avatar
  16. Battle of Wits
  17. The Divine Weapon
  18. Baian The Assassin
  19. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  20. Bravo 20
  21. Diggs Town
  22. Shutter Island
  23. Lake Placid
  24. Liberty Stand Still
  25. Idiocracy
  26. Double Indemnity
  27. Frost Nixon
  28. Kung Fu the Series
  29. Looking for Mr. Good bar
  30. The Confessor
  31. Spinout
  32. Dazed and Confused
  33. The Pentagon Wars
  34. Black Hawk Down
  35. Harlem Knights
  36. Once Upon A Time in China
  37. Walking Tall
  38. The Postman
  39. Office Space
  40. Zatoichi
  41. Fight Club
  42. Judgment at Nuremburg
  43. Joe vs The Volcano
  44. Witness for the Prosecution
  45. The Big Lebowski
  46. Thunderbirds
  47. King Rat
  48. Fast Times at Ridgemont High
  49. Blade Runner
  50. Operation Petticoat
  51. Substitute 2 Schools Out
  52. Reindeer Games
  53. The Magic Blade
  54. Four Brothers
  55. Wild Things
  56. Tai Chi Master
  57. Silver Streak
  58. Stir Crazy
  59. Passenger 57
  60. Wall Street Money Never Sleeps
  61. Robin Hood (2010)
  62. Pink Panther
  63. Valliant Ones
  64. The Tick
  65. Detective Dee
  66. Viva Las Vegas
  67. The Party
  68. The Million Heiress
  69. On the Waterfront
  70. China Town
  71. Shao lin Wheel of Life
  72. 9th Gate
  73. Punishment Park
  74. FM
  75. Bottle Rocket
  76. Turk 182
  77. Heathers
  78. Samurai Fiction
  79. Glen Gary Glen Ross
  80. Inside Job Battle of Los Angeles
  81. Smokey & The Bandit
  82. Sharkeys Machine
  83. The Third Shadow
  84. Malone
  85. Hara-kiri
  86. City Heat
  87. Keeping up with the Joneses
  88. Musashi 1954
  89. Zen & Sword and Showdown at Hannyazaka
  90. Musashi NHK Series
  91. Duel at Ichijoji Temple (1955) a/k/a Zoku Miyamoto Musashi: Ichijôji no kettô.
  92. Movies 3&4 of the 5 Part Series–Musashi Birth of the 2 Sword Style and Musashi Miyamoto 4: Duel at Ichijoji Temple.
  93. Musashi NHK Part 2
  94. Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island
  95. Body Slam
  96. Iron Eagle
  97. Run
  98. The General
  99. Divine Weapon Redux
  100. Harvey Birdman Attorney At  Law
  101. Owls Castle
  102. 13 Assassins
  103. Chain Reaction
  104. The Chill Factor
  105. The Dark Crystal
  106. Escape from New York
  107. The Interpreter
  108. A certain killer
  109. Rough Cut
  110. My Fair Lady
  111. McFarlane vs Judge
  112. McFarlane vs Judge
  113. McFarlane vs Judge
  114. A Cruel Story
  115. Heart Break Ridge
  116. Posse
  117. Monk (Series)
  118. Men Who Tread on the Tigers Tail
  119. Love American Style
  120. The John Larroquette Show
  121. The Ropers
  122. Cannon Ball
  123. Top Gun
  124. Beverly Hills Cop
  125. Hero
  126. Kill Bill
  127. Kill Bill

I will try to get this list current and keep it that way.

 
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Posted by on January 10, 2012 in Movie Reviews

 

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Ever hear of a castle named after a bird? JPFmovies Looks at Owl’s Castle (1999)

Based on the 1999 novel by Shiba Ryotaro and directed by Shinoda Masahiro the same year, Owl’s Castle is thoroughly tangled in actual Japanese history and a terrific depiction of the politics of the times.  One of the great features of this movie is that it was shot on site at many of the original locations in Osaka and Nara. Owl’s Castle attempts to recreate the politically tumultuous times following the Sengoku Era during which the entire nation was engaged in civil war.  Traditionally three key figures are credited with resolving that anarchy and inching Japan along the path of political unification that would last about 300 years from 1568 until Japan finally opened itself up to the West in the Meiji Era circa 1868.  The three figures were Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582), Toyotomi Hideyoshi (ruled 1584-1598), and Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616).

 

Aspiring to the appointment of Shogun by the Emperor, Oda Nobunaga skillfully crushed many of the most powerful daimyos (military families – of which there were about 200 at the beginning of the Sengoku period), resulting in a gradual establishment of a working yet risky unified stability.  Following Nobunaga’s death in 1582, his top general Hideyoshi, though holding the lesser title of regent (kwampaku) rather than Shogun, established himself as the de-facto military leader and immediately set out to further solidify the remaining daimyos under a national government.  In the ruthless pursuit of complete military domination of the country Hideyoshi violently conquered any remaining groups he believed to be unfriendly.  In 1577, having overcome all his national enemies, Hideyoshi amassed a huge army of 200,000 and set out by ship from Kyushu to attempt a conquest of China via Korea.  When the King of Korea refused to allow Hideyoshi’s troops to pass through the country toward China, Hideyoshi fought his way as far north as Rakuro (PyongYang, North Korea). Through gradual realizations of the difficulties in logistics and their potentially being outnumbered by the Chinese, Hideyoshi’s ambitious vision was at last discarded at his death in 1598.

 

Owl’s Castle is set during the height of Hideyoshi’s rule and tells the tale of an assassination attempt by a surviving member of the Iga Clan, one of the groups vanquished by Hideyoshi.  The assassination plot ultimately involves infiltrating the immense and (thought to be) impenetrable fortress built by Hideyoshi, nicknamed Owl’s Castle.  Hideyoshi had built a monstrosity of a castle during the years 1583-1585, modeled after Nobunaga’s mammoth Adzuchi Castle (the ruins can still be visited in Shiga prefecture).  But Owl’s Castle was much grander than Adzuchi, Hideyoshi built a massive edifice using enormous granite blocks surrounded by deep moats and steep embankments.  The castle is known (in real life) as Osaka Castle. It remains to this very day and is considered the grandest and most elaborate castle in Japan.  The infiltration of this castle (and the ensuing escape) marks the dramatic climax of the narrative.

 

The plot itself involves a survivor of the formidable ninja school located in Iga Province (modern day Nara prefecture) which Hideyoshi cruelly slaughtered (including women and children) out of fear of their skill and growing influence.  The locations and regions conquered are historically accurate, making this film a dramatic exploration of the otherwise heralded campaign by Toyotomi Hideyoshi to bring order to the nation.

 

Most of the film is shot in wide panoramic cinematography, using the actual historical locations in both Nara and Osaka.  Thus we are in for an illustrated history lesson which includes all the major figures, maps, castle interiors, and social life and trends of the time—that is why I am going through the history so much.  For this reason alone you should watch this film.  In addition, however, Owl’s Castle boasts an amazing cast of popular talent, most of whom have plenty of experience in similar productions. The narrative itself, running at 138 minutes, is chock full of character studies and plot-relevant relationships and rivalries. There is also plenty of action ranging from military conquests to hand-to-hand ninja battles upon massive rooftops.  When put all together, along with the aid of an effective soundtrack, this film does deliver what it promises to Japanese audiences: a thoroughly engrossing tale enmeshed in the history and politics of one of Japan’s most formative and memorable periods.

 

Now on to the story itself.  After 10 years of seclusion hiding in an abandoned temple, the formidable ninja Juzo (Nakai Kichii) is called back into action to assassinate the nation’s leading military leader Toyotomi Hideyoshi.  Juzo watched his own mother and sister die horribly during Hideyoshi’s brutal conquest of Iga (Nara), which left only a handful of survivors.  The mission will require him to return to Osaka and infiltrate the new castle which Hideyoshi built for himself. Only a ninja of unparalleled skill will be able to scale and penetrate the formidable defenses Hideyoshi resides in.

 

During his mission, Juzo encounters a number of the survivors of the Iga massacre.  They, like him, live anonymously in lowly positions, but are eager to aid Juzo once they realize his mission. All, that is, except Gohei, another well-trained ninja of the Iga school whose allegiance now lies with Hideyoshi and whose aims involve attaining a high-ranking samurai position within the Hideyoshi faction.  The capture or death of Juzo during such an attempt on Hideyoshi’s life would provide the opportunity needed for Gohei to attain this coveted position.

 

Even during the governmental stability established by Hideyoshi, political turmoil and plotting continued making trust and alliances difficult for Juzo.  So he must not only survive the complexities of the political environment, but also develop and carry out a plausible scheme to fulfill the assassination.

 

In my opinion this is a thoroughly entertaining film filled with historical tidbits and is heavy on dialogue (which is not a bad thing).  The degree of dialogue, however, is also matched with highly detailed panoramic scenes of landscapes, architecture and the bustle of 16th century life in Japan.  The polished film visually presents you with top-notch scenes and historical re-enactments. Because it is complex and intricate, this storyline is far from boring while action permeates the film from first to last scene.

 

Anyone interested in Japanese history or jidaieki (history-based films) will enjoy this film and not be disappointed.  The film also presents a much more realistic vision of the ninja instead of the superhuman image seen too often in films, making it enjoyable by martial art and samurai fans as well.

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2011 in Movie Reviews

 

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Mike C Comes in With Some Thoughts on Red Cliff.

Red Cliff Part 1 & 2:

I’ll say this much about the movie – I hope they recycled those arrows. No wonder we worry about the green house effect and global warming! How many trees did the battle scenes take to produce all those arrows?

If this is based on a true story, then this event certainly reduced the human population of China and saved all of us from over population! I mean, if that many soldiers died, imagine what the world would be like today if they hadn’t!

Overall great movie. I don’t often like reading subtitles, but I gave it a shot. Lots of action. Lots of arrows.

 
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Posted by on April 21, 2010 in Movie Reviews

 

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